Last year, over 1.5 million people heard the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.” While only a small portion of those — about three percent — were diagnosed with oral cancer, their survival rate isn’t as good as with other types of cancers: 58% five years after diagnosis.
Here, then, are some things you should know about this deadly disease.
Oral cancer is an “equal opportunity” disease. People from all walks and stations of life experience oral cancer. The disease has caused the untimely deaths of Ulysses S. Grant, Babe Ruth and George Harrison, one of the original Beatles. However, you don’t have to be prominent or famous to acquire oral cancer: it can strike anyone at any age, especially people 40 years and older.
Oral cancer is difficult to detect early. Oral cancer usually appears as a small, scaly-shaped sore known as a squamous cell carcinoma. Appearing in the lining of the mouth, lips, tongue or back of the throat, the early stages often resemble other benign conditions such as cold or canker sores, so they’re easily overlooked in the early stages. To increase your chances of an early diagnosis, you should see your dentist about any mouth sore that doesn’t heal in two to three weeks; it’s also advisable to undergo a specific oral cancer screening during your regular dental checkups.
Tobacco and heavy alcohol use are strongly linked to oral cancer. Tobacco smokers are five to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer while snuff or chewing tobacco users are roughly four times more likely than non-tobacco users. People who are moderate to heavy drinkers are three to nine times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-drinkers.
You can reduce your risk for oral cancer. Besides quitting tobacco use and moderating your alcohol consumption, there are other things you can do to reduce cancer risk: a nutritious diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables; limited sun exposure with adequate sunscreen protection and clothing; and safe sexual practices to avoid contracting Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16), strongly linked to oral cancer. And above all, practice effective, daily oral hygiene with regular dental cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on prevention and treatment of oral cancer, 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 Cancer.”
Most often, all of your child’s primary teeth will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth, but you shouldn’t consider them less important — there are serious consequences for losing a primary tooth prematurely. Besides providing a means for a child to chew food and speak clearly, primary teeth also save space for the permanent teeth to erupt; a premature loss could lead to malocclusions (bad bites) that may result in costly orthodontic treatment later.
That’s why it’s important to fight tooth decay in primary teeth. By keeping them healthy and in place until it’s time for their departure, their permanent replacements have a better chance of erupting into their proper positions.
Here are 4 tips for preventing tooth decay in primary teeth:
Begin daily oral hygiene when teeth first appear. Begin brushing with fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first primary teeth come in. Brushing removes bacterial plaque, the primary cause of tooth decay, and fluoride strengthens enamel. Because they tend to swallow toothpaste rather than spit it out, use just a smear of toothpaste for infants and toddlers, and a pea-sized amount for ages two and older.
Start regular dental visits by the child’s first birthday. By beginning regular checkups around age 1, we’ll have a better chance of discovering developing tooth decay or other problems early. You’re also setting a good foundation for what should be a lifelong habit for optimum dental health.
Limit sugar consumption. The oral bacteria that cause tooth decay feed on leftover carbohydrates like sugar, so you should limit intake especially between meals. One culprit to watch out for: a bedtime bottle filled with formula, milk or fruit juices, all of which contain carbohydrates (sugar). Water or no bottle at all is a better alternative.
Consider topical fluoride or sealants for extra protection. In some circumstances, we may advise protecting the enamel of newly erupted teeth with an applied sealant. These protective coatings fill in porous pits and fissures in young teeth to deny access to disease. Supplemental fluoride will further strengthen young tooth enamel.
Taking these measures and remaining vigilant to the first signs of decay can go a long way toward preserving your child’s teeth. Their future oral health depends on it.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Modern restorations for severely damaged or missing teeth are truly remarkable. Although the type of restoration may differ — dental implant, bridge, or veneer — the end result is a life-like facsimile that matches the shape and color of your natural teeth.
To achieve this result, though, the new crown or veneer requires fabrication in a dental laboratory, a meticulous process that may take a few weeks. In the interim, we often install temporary crowns. These help in a number of ways: because we’ve prepared the teeth for final restoration by removing some of the tooth structure, the temporary crown protects and stabilizes the teeth, reduces sensitivity and helps maintain gum health. Temporary crowns also enable the patient to present a more natural smile while waiting for the permanent restoration.
Temporary crowns are typically manufactured to fit a wide range of patients, similar to an “off-the-rack” suit from a clothing store. In recent years, though, customized “tailored” temporary crowns designed specifically for an individual patient have grown in popularity among dental professionals as well as patients.
In creating a customized temporary crown, we first perform a smile analysis similar to one used for a permanent restoration. After a careful assessment of your mouth, we would then make recommendations about the elements to include in the temporary crown, including shape and color. We would also factor in your desires and concerns into the final design. Working together with the dental laboratory, we would then have the temporary crowns produced and ready to apply as soon as we complete the preparatory work.
Customized temporary crowns also serve another important purpose as a kind of “dress rehearsal” for the permanent restoration. This gives you an opportunity to “try out” the smile you’ll have with the permanent restoration in your daily life. We can then use your experience to make adjustments to the permanent crowns before final production.
While customized temporary crowns involve more effort and expense than the traditional, the benefits are worth the added cost, especially if you’re involved with an extensive “smile makeover” procedure. Not only will you look better while your permanent restoration is under construction, your temporary look will give you added confidence that your future smile is right for you.
If you would like more information on temporary and permanent dental restorations, 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 “Concepts of Temporary Restorations.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
While it may not be one of your favorite features in the dental office, the dental drill is nevertheless necessary for treating problem teeth. It’s used primarily for removing decayed or damaged structure and preparing a tooth for fillings or other restorations.
Dental drills have been used for decades and are quite effective — but they have their drawbacks. Their rotating burrs often remove portions of healthy tooth structure along with decayed material. Friction from the drill action can cause discomfort, so local anesthesia is usually needed. Drills can also emit a high-pitched machine noise that’s unsettling to many patients.
There’s a growing alternative to the drill, known as air abrasion. Although the technology has been around since the 1950s, the development of new suction pumps that capture the resulting dust from its use has made it more palatable as an option to the traditional drill.
Also known as particle abrasion, the technique uses a pressurized stream of fine particles (usually aluminum oxide, an abrasive powder) directed at teeth to wear away (abrade) the tooth’s structural surface. We can be quite precise in the amount of surface material removed, so it’s useful for diminishing stains or roughing the surface for bonding materials like composite resin. We’re also able to remove decayed material with very little impact on surrounding healthy structure, and you may not need anesthesia during the procedure.
While this quiet alternative to the noisier drill is quite versatile, it does have its limitations. It’s not that efficient for preparing larger cavities for restoration or for removing older amalgam fillings. The teeth to be treated must be carefully isolated to prevent the fine particle dust produced from being swallowed by the patient or spread into the air. High-volume suction equipment is a must or the procedure will create a “sandstorm” of particles in the room.
Still, for situations suited to it and with proper isolation measures, air abrasion can be effective and comfortable. If the technology continues to improve, the dental drill may soon become a relic of the past.
If you would like more information on procedures using air abrasion, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
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