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.”
Not long ago the dental bridge was the alternative treatment of choice to partial dentures for restoring lost teeth. Over the last few decades, however, dental implants have nudged bridgework out of this premier spot.
That doesn’t mean, though, that bridgework has gone the way of the horse and buggy. In fact, it may still be a solid restorative alternative to partial dentures for certain people.
A traditional bridge consists of a series of porcelain crowns affixed to each other like pickets in a fence. The end crowns are fitted onto the teeth on either side of the empty tooth space; known as abutment teeth, they support the bridge. The crowns in the middle, known as pontics (from the French for “bridge”), replace the teeth that have been lost.
Bridges have been an effective and cosmetically pleasing method for tooth replacement for nearly a century. To achieve those results, though, a good portion of the abutment teeth’s structure must be removed to accommodate the crowns. This permanently alters these teeth, so they’ll require a restoration from that point on.
Dental implants, on the other hand, can be installed in the missing space without impacting any neighboring teeth. What’s more, implants provide greater support to the underlying bone than can be achieved with bridgework.
But not everyone is a viable candidate for implants, and ironically the reason most often has to do with the bone. If a patient has suffered significant bone volume loss, either because of disease or the long-term absence of the natural teeth, there may not be enough bone to properly support an implant. Unless we can adequately restore this lost bone volume through grafting, we’ll need to consider another type of restoration.
That’s where bridgework could be a viable option for patients in this or similar situations. With continuing advances in materials and new applications, the traditional bridge still remains an effective and important means to restore a smile marred by missing teeth.
If you would like more information on dental restoration options, 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Dental injuries result in thousands of visits to the emergency room every year, and many of these injuries occur while engaging in sports and recreational activities. Whether playing on an organized team or joining a spontaneous game with friends, athletes are much more likely to suffer a dental injury when not wearing a mouthguard. Five national dental organizations have joined together for National Facial Protection Month to urge athletes to use a mouthguard during both practice and games.
The American Dental Association and the Academy for Sports Dentistry recommend using mouthguards for over 30 sporting activities. While it comes as no surprise that mouthguards are recommended for football, hockey and basketball, the list also includes many activities that may not immediately come to mind—among them, surfing, ultimate frisbee, skateboarding, volleyball, skiing and bicycle riding.
In short, it’s wise to protect your smile while participating in any activity where your teeth may make contact with a hard surface. A properly fitted mouthguard can prevent injuries to the teeth, mouth and jaw, and may even help protect against head and neck injuries. Even those who participate in casual recreational activities should consider a mouthguard as an insurance policy against future pain and expense.
There are three types of mouthguards: a stock mouthguard that is bought ready to use from your neighborhood store, the “boil-and-bite” type that is formed to the mouth after being softened in hot water, and a custom-made mouthguard that is available from the dental office. Although any mouthguard is better than no protection at all, the best protection and most comfortable fit comes from a mouthguard that is custom-made by your dentist.
If you have questions about preventing dental injuries, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
When you're first startled awake in the middle of the night by a loud, gritting sound emanating from your child's room, you may have two questions: how can such a loud racket not be harmful to their teeth? And, how can they sleep through it?
While it sounds earth-shattering, teeth grinding (medically known as bruxism) is a common habit among children. It involves an involuntary grinding, clenching or rubbing of the teeth together, either during the day or during night sleep.
While certain medications or conditions could be factors, it's believed most teeth grinding arises from the immaturity of the part of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. It's believed to trigger a night episode as the child moves from deeper to lighter stages of sleep toward waking. Older children and adults typically handle these sudden shifts without incident, but a young child's under-developed chewing response may react with grinding.
If a child's teeth are normal and healthy, teeth-grinding typically won't create any lasting damage. But because grinding does generate pressures greater than the teeth normally encounter, it can be harmful to decayed teeth or those with enamel erosion due to high acid from consumption of sports and soda drinks. And it's also a cause for concern if the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence.
To avoid these problems, it's best to keep your child's teeth as healthy as possible by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and regularly seeing a dentist for cleanings, treatments and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. And be sure to limit sugar and acidic foods and drinks in their diet to protect against decay and erosion.
You can also take steps to minimize teeth grinding and its effects. Consult with your physician about any medications they're taking that might contribute to the habit. If there are psychological issues at play, seek therapy to help your child better manage their stress. Your dentist can also fashion a custom night guard worn while they sleep that will prevent their teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes.
Most importantly, let your dentist know if your child grinds their teeth. Keeping an eye on this potentially harmful habit will help lead to appropriate actions when the time comes.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of 'Bruxism' Harmful?”