Posts for: October, 2013
Cancer is never a pleasant topic. Yet, rather than wish it away, many people have chosen to take an active and positive role in the prevention and early detection of the disease. Did you know that you and your dentist, working together, can help identify a major class of cancers in the early stages? Let's spend a few moments discussing oral cancer.
Oral cancer is dangerous. Although it accounts for a relatively small percentage of all cancers, it isn't usually detected until it has reached a late stage. And at that point, the odds aren't great: only 58% survive 5 years after treatment, a rate far less than that of many better-known cancers. It is estimated that in the United States, this disease kills one person every hour, every day.
Oral cancer used to be thought of as an older person's disease — and it still primarily strikes those over 40 years of age. But a disturbing number of young people have been diagnosed with the illness in recent years, making them the fastest-growing segment among oral cancer patients. This is due to the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV16). So, while long-time tobacco users and heavy drinkers still need screenings, most young people do too.
What's the good news? When it's detected early, the survival rate of oral cancer goes up to 80% or better. And having an oral cancer screening is part of doing something you should be doing anyway — getting regular dental checkups. That's one more reason why coming in to our office regularly for your routine examination is so important.
Of course, if you notice any abnormal sores or color changes in the tissue around your mouth, lips, tongue or throat — especially if they don't go away in 2-3 weeks — come in and see us right away. They could be just cold sores — or not.
An oral cancer exam is fast and painless. It involves a visual inspection of the mouth and surrounding area (face, lips, throat, etc.), during which we may also feel for lumps. We'll also gently pull your tongue from side to side, and check underneath it for early signs of a problem. If needed, we can schedule a biopsy for any suspicious areas. Sound easy? It is! So don't ignore it — remember that early detection could save your life.
Lose a baby tooth when you're a young kid, no big deal — you'll grow another. Lose a permanent one and there's cause for concern. For one thing, tooth loss is often a symptom of an underlying oral health problem, such as tooth decay or gum disease, so it's important to identify the cause and treat it to prevent it from progressing. It is equally important to replace the tooth — not simply for the immediate impact it can have on your smile or bite, but for long-term function, esthetics and the health of the bone that supports your teeth.
The primary options for tooth replacement are fixed bridgework and dental implants. Both result in esthetically pleasing outcomes; the main difference is how each is attached. With a bridge, the replacement tooth, referred to as a “pontic,” uses the two natural teeth on either side of the gap — referred to as “abutments” — for support. The pontic is sandwiched between two other crowns, which fit over and are bonded or cemented to the teeth on either side of the gap. To ensure the companion crowns fit properly, the enamel must be removed from each abutment.
Placing dental implants, by contrast, involves working only on the affected area. The “implant” is actually a small titanium rod with spiraling threads just like a miniature screw that is carefully inserted into the jawbone as though it were a natural root. The replacement tooth, a customized crown, is secured to the end portion of the implant by way of an intermediary referred to as an abutment, which firmly anchors it in place.
Both bridges and implants are natural looking, functional, predictable, and reliable. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and based on your oral health, one may be more appropriate than the other.
If you would like more information on tooth loss and replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Hidden Consequences of Losing Teeth” and “Dental Implants vs. Bridgework.”
In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed many of his patients had unusual brown staining on their teeth — and little to no tooth decay. What he unknowingly observed was the power of a chemical substance in his patients' drinking water — fluoride. While commonplace today, fluoride sparked a revolution — and some controversy — in dental care during the 20th Century.
After decades of research and testing, most dentists now agree that fluoride reduces decay by interfering with the disease process. The optimum pH level for the mouth is neutral; however, this environment constantly changes as we eat, especially if we ingest foods or beverages high in acidity. A high acid level softens tooth enamel (a process called de-mineralization) and can lead to erosion if not neutralized. In addition, a thin layer of bacteria-rich plaque called biofilm that adheres to tooth surfaces is also acidic and is the cause of tooth decay, possibly more so in teeth made more susceptible from enamel erosion.
When fluoride is in “the right place” (present on the tooth surface and in our saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer), it helps inhibit de-mineralization and aids in the re-hardening of the enamel (re-mineralization).
Although fluoride needs to come into direct contact with tooth enamel for optimum effectiveness, ingesting it can also prove beneficial. The fluoride we ingest eventually becomes deposited in bone. As bone grows and changes it releases this reserved fluoride back into the bloodstream where it eventually becomes part of saliva; the saliva brings it into contact with tooth surfaces.
The two most prominent ways we encounter fluoride are through fluoridated drinking water and in toothpaste. There continues to be concerns about what constitutes safe levels of fluoride in drinking water and over possible side effects like teeth staining and changes in bone structure. However, extensive studies have conclusively shown that even minimal levels of water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpaste have reduced tooth decay.
As the Colorado dentist discovered over a hundred years ago, fluoride is truly remarkable as a cavity fighter. Whether you have access to fluoridated water or not, we encourage you to use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against decay.
If you would like more information on fluoride, 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
Loose teeth are an exciting rite of passage in childhood; in adulthood, they're anything but. In fact, a permanent tooth that feels loose is a sign that you need to make an appointment with our office right away. The quicker we act, the better chance we will have of saving the tooth.
What causes loose teeth? In the absence of a traumatic dental injury, the culprit is usually periodontal (gum) disease. This is a bacterial infection of the gum and/or bone tissues that surround and support your teeth. The infection is caused by bacterial plaque that sits on your teeth in the absence of effective oral hygiene. Over time, periodontal disease will cause gum tissue and eventually bone to detach from the teeth. As more of this supporting tissue is lost, the teeth will gradually become loose and (if the disease remains untreated) eventually fall out.
Loose teeth can also be caused by a clenching or grinding habit that generates too much biting force. This force can stretch the periodontal ligaments that join the teeth to the supporting bone, making your teeth looser.
Whether the cause of your tooth looseness is biological (gum disease) or mechanical (too much force), treatments are available here at the dental office. The first step in treating gum disease is a thorough cleaning to remove plaque and harder deposits on the teeth (tartar or calculus); this includes the tooth-root surfaces beneath the gum line. You will also be instructed on effective oral hygiene techniques and products to use at home. This type of therapy will promote healing of the gums that will cause some tightening of the teeth. Additional treatments will probably be necessary to gain the maximum healing response to allow the teeth to be most stable. For example, we may also want to temporarily or permanently splint the loose tooth or teeth to other teeth so that biting forces do not loosen them further.
There are other mechanical approaches we can employ to prevent a loose tooth from receiving too much force. For example, we can reshape the tooth by removing tiny amounts of its surface enamel in order to change the way upper and lower teeth contact each other. We also may suggest a custom-made nightguard to protect your teeth if you have a nighttime grinding habit.
The most important thing to know about loose teeth is that it's crucial to intervene quickly. So if you are experiencing tooth looseness, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Loose Teeth” and “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
Sports drinks have grown in popularity since University of Florida football trainers developed Gatorade® in the 1960s. They're widely viewed as a convenient fluid and nutrient replacement after strenuous workouts. Recently, another beverage has become wildly popular — the energy drink, whose high caffeine promises heightened concentration and physical ability.
While energy drinks have raised health concerns, sports drinks are widely regarded as safe. Both kinds of drinks, however, may be a cause for concern when it comes to your dental health.
While both are substantively different, they do have one thing in common — both beverages contain high levels of citric and other acids to improve taste and shelf life. This high acidity can have a detrimental effect on tooth enamel.
When the mouth becomes too acidic after eating or drinking (4 or lower on the pH scale), the tooth's outer protective enamel begins to erode, a process known as demineralization. Saliva with its neutral pH of 7 can neutralize this over-acidity in about thirty minutes to an hour after eating and the enamel will actually begin to remineralize. But when there's an overabundance of acid, as with these beverages, saliva's neutralizing ability becomes inhibited. The mouth remains too acidic for a longer period, resulting in greater erosion of the enamel.
Generally speaking, we don't recommend energy drinks at all. If, however, you occasionally take in a sports drink, add the following precautions, if possible: combine the drink with a mealtime and rinse your mouth with pH-neutral water to wash away residual acid from the sports drink; and wait an hour before brushing your teeth — since some demineralization occurs before saliva neutralizes the acid, you could brush away some of the softened enamel before it can remineralize.
Finally, consider this: pure, clean water is still the best hydrator in the world. Replenishing your fluids with it after exercise might also be the better choice for your dental health.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports and energy drinks on oral health, 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 “Think Before you Drink.”