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.”
If you’re in the initial planning stages for a dental implant, you may already be encountering a number of options to consider. One that may come up is how the visible crown will attach to the metal implant imbedded in the bone.
Generally speaking, implants are composed of two parts: a metal post most often made of titanium placed into the bone that serves as the “root” for the new tooth; and a visible, life-like crown made of dental porcelain that attaches to an abutment on the titanium post. The crown can be attached in one of two ways: either with a small screw through the biting surface of the crown into a receiving hole in the abutment or cemented to it.
The major advantage of a screwed crown is that it allows for easy removal of the crown if needed. While the titanium post can often last a lifetime, porcelain crowns more often need repair or replacement since they receive the brunt of the biting forces in the mouth. A screw-attached crown is much easier to remove than a cemented one.
On the other hand, screwed crowns have a small access hole that must be restored with a tooth-colored filling to help the crown appear natural. This isn’t too great an issue with back teeth but does make achieving a natural appearance in the front more difficult. Cemented crowns look more like a natural tooth and are thus more flexible in achieving the desired appearance.
Besides the possibility the cement may cause gum inflammation or bone loss, the chief detraction from cemented crowns is the difficulty in removing them. Crowns are often damaged in this process so it’s highly likely it will have to be replaced rather than repaired. It’s possible to use weaker cement, but this raises the risk of the crown coming loose at some point from the abutment.
As we plan for your implant, we’ll discuss which type of attachment will work best for you, depending on the tooth to be replaced and other conditions with your oral health. The end result, though, should be the same — a new, natural-looking tooth that serves you well for many years to come.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “How Crowns Attach to Implants.”
During your lifetime you’ll eat thousands of meals — and generate a lot of force from chewing over the years. But thanks to a support system of gum tissues and bone, your teeth can normally handle it.
What your teeth can’t handle, though, are higher than normal chewing forces on a continual basis. This can happen if you grind your teeth, which can produce 20-30 times the normal force. The habit often arises in adults because of high stress and often occurs during sleep.
These abnormal forces can stretch the periodontal ligaments that hold teeth in place, cause the teeth to become loose and at increased risk for loss. The best treatment strategy is to reduce clenching with, for example, muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory drugs or lower the effects with a mouth guard that won’t allow the teeth to make solid contact during clenching.
Your teeth can also become loose even with normal chewing forces if you have advanced periodontal (gum) disease. Gum disease arises from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on teeth due to poor oral hygiene. As it builds up, it causes inflammation of the gum tissues resulting in bone loss and causing the gums to detach from the teeth, increasing pocket depth.
Our first step in this case is to treat the gum disease by removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from all tooth and gum surfaces. This includes infected areas below the gum line and around the roots, a circumstance that could require surgical access.
As treatment progresses in either of these scenarios the gum tissues heal and often regain their attachment to the teeth. But that can take time, so we may need to stabilize any loose teeth in the short term. The most common way is to splint them to other secure teeth. This is done by using a clear acrylic bonding material to join the loose teeth together with a strip of metal or other rigid material (like joining pickets in a fence).
When symptoms arise, quick action is the key to preventing lost teeth. If you notice swollen, painful or bleeding gums or especially loose teeth, don’t delay — contact us so we can begin treatment as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for loose 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 “Loose Teeth.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: “Take care of your dentures and your dentures will take care of you.” Well, maybe it’s not that old—but it’s still a sensible notion. Maintaining your dentures by routinely cleaning them and having them checked for fit will improve their longevity.
There’s one other thing you should include on your maintenance routine—avoid wearing your dentures 24/7, especially while you sleep. This bad habit could lead to some unpleasant consequences.
For one, wearing dentures continuously can accelerate bone loss in the jaw that eventually causes your dentures to lose their comfortable fit. Bone loss is a natural consequence of tooth loss because the bone no longer receives the stimulation to grow transmitted by the teeth during chewing. Dentures can’t transmit this stimulus; what’s more, the pressure they place on the gums and underlying bony ridges could make bone loss worse. You can relieve this gum pressure at night by taking them out.
Dentures can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that cause disease, irritation and unpleasant mouth odors. Taking dentures out at night deprives these microorganisms of a prime opportunity to carry on business as usual—and it’s also a great time to clean your dentures. People who sleep with their dentures in their mouth are more likely to have gum or oral yeast infections and higher levels of proteins produced by white cells that increase inflammation. That could contribute to other diseases throughout the body.
Besides taking your dentures out at night, you should also practice other daily hygiene tasks. Remove your dentures after eating and rinse them with clean water. Brush your dentures daily with a soft-bristled brush and dish or antibacterial soap or dental cleanser (no toothpaste—it’s too abrasive for denture surfaces). Be sure you clean your gums and tongue every day too. When your dentures are out, store them in clean water or preferably an alkaline peroxide-based solution.
Removing your dentures at night and these other good habits will help extend the life and fit of your dentures. It could also help keep the rest of you healthy.
If you would like more information on denture 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 “Sleeping in Dentures: A Habit that Can Cause Health Problems.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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