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.”
Pain is the body’s warning system: It tells us something is wrong. And depending on the location and intensity of the pain, it can give us vital clues about the problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s not so clear and direct—the pain could arise from any number of sources. Toothaches often fall into this category: Although it’s likely indicating a tooth or gum problem, it could be something else — or even somewhere else.
This is known as referred pain, in which you may feel pain in one location, like your mouth, but the actual source of the problem is somewhere else, like an infected and congested sinus passage. If we’re able to identify the true source and location of the pain, the better the chances of a successful treatment outcome.
Besides sinus infections, there are other conditions like trigeminal neuralgia that can refer pain to the mouth. This painful condition involves the trigeminal nerve, a large nerve running on either side of the face that can become inflamed. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, you might feel the pain at various points along the jaw, feeling much like a toothache.
There’s also the case of an earache mimicking a toothache, and vice-versa. Because of the proximity of the ears to the jaws, there is some nerve interconnectedness between them. For example, an infected or abscessed back tooth could feel a lot like an earache.
These and other possible problems (including jaw joint disorders or teeth grinding) can generate pain as if it were coming from the mouth or a single tooth. To be sure you’ll need to undergo a complete dental examination. If your dentist doesn’t find anything wrong with your mouth, he or she may refer you to a medical doctor to explore other possible causes.
Getting to the root cause of pain can help determine which treatment strategy to pursue to relieve it. Finding the actual source is the most efficient way to understand what a pain sensation is trying to tell us.
Every year, thousands of children are born with a cleft palate, cleft lip or a combination of both. The advocacy group AmeriFace promotes the month of July as National Cleft & Craniofacial Awareness & Prevention Month to call attention to this potentially disfiguring defect—and to highlight treatments offered by dentists that can change the destiny of a child with a cleft defect.
Simply put, a cleft is a gap or opening in the palate (roof of the mouth) and/or upper lip. Cleft lips and palates result when structures that are forming in an unborn baby’s mouth and face don’t fuse together as they should during pregnancy. They can occur on either one side or on both sides of the face, in partial form (with some connecting tissue present) or completely open.
Clefts can cause severe disfigurement in a child, which may lead to a diminished self-image and disruption in relationships with others. A cleft can also compromise other aspects of a child’s health and life, including dental health, nutrition, respiratory function and speech development.
Doctors don’t always know why a particular baby is born with a cleft lip or palate, but clefts are thought to result from a combination of factors. Genetics most certainly plays a role, but there appear to be other influencing factors during pregnancy like nutritional deficiencies and fetal exposure to alcohol, radiation or toxic chemicals. In addition, having poorly controlled diabetes or being obese during pregnancy may increase the risk of the baby being born with cleft lip or cleft palate.
Managing known health conditions as well as striving for better prenatal nutrition and protection from environmental hazards may reduce the risks for cleft formation, even so, clefts do form. When they do, we can often effectively correct them, thanks to surgical procedures first developed by a military surgeon stationed in Korea in 1950.
While analyzing photos of cleft patients, Dr. Ralph Millard realized the tissue needed to repair a cleft was already present, but in a distorted form. He then experimented with surgical techniques that released the tissue so that it could be moved and fashioned into a normal appearance.
Dr. Millard’s original techniques remain the basis for today’s advanced procedures. Correction of a cleft lip or palate typically requires a series of procedures which can span the child’s developmental years. The first surgery usually occurs around 3-6 months of age, followed by later procedures to refine the earlier work. This process usually requires a team of dental specialists that includes oral surgeons, orthodontists and general dentists.
The road to restoration from a cleft birth defect can be a long one for children and their families, but the treatment methods developed over the last several decades can truly give them the gift of a normal life.
If you would like more information about cleft repair and other oral surgical procedures, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate: Common Birth Defects That Can Be Repaired Beautifully by Skilled Surgeons.”
The journey to a straighter smile with braces can be difficult. One of the biggest dangers you'll face is an increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. To curtail plaque growth, you must brush and floss daily and visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings. If you don't, accumulated plaque can trigger an infection with potentially disastrous consequences for your dental health.
But wearing braces can make you more vulnerable to gum disease. The braces and wires can get in the way of brushing and flossing. To add to the difficulty, the gums often react to being in close proximity to braces, causing their tissues to swell or overgrow. And if the patient is a teenager, the normal hormonal surge that occurs during these years could compound this vulnerability even more.
To prevent an infection, you'll need to practice extra diligence cleaning your teeth with brushing and flossing. It takes more time and effort, but it's worth it to lower your disease risk. To help even more, consider using tools like specialized brushes that can maneuver better around hardware and floss threaders that can get floss under wires. You might also consider a water flosser, which uses pressurized water to remove plaque between teeth.
In addition to your orthodontic visits, you should also maintain your regular cleaning schedule with your family dentist—or more often if they recommend. Besides cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of developing gum disease. They can also prescribe mouthrinses for controlling bacterial growth.
Even with diligent hygiene, your gums may still adversely react to the braces. This may not be a problem if your gum tissues don't appear to be detaching from the teeth. But your dentist or orthodontist may recommend you see a periodontist (a gum specialist) to help monitor that aspect of your care. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces and allow the gums to heal.
Keeping your teeth clean and your mouth disease-free is no easy task while wearing braces. But it can be done—and with your dentist's help, you can achieve a straighter and healthier smile.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Singer and actor Demi Lovato has a new claim to fame: formidable martial artist. When she is not in the recording studio, on stage or in front of the camera, Lovato can often be found keeping in shape at Jay Glazer's Hollywood (California) gym. Glazer, who is best known as a sports journalist, also runs conditioning programs for professional athletes and celebrities based on mixed martial arts. On March 6, Glazer got more than he bargained for when 5'3" Lovato stepped into the ring and knocked out his front tooth.
Glazer reportedly used super glue to put his tooth back together. Not a good idea! While it may not be convenient to drop everything and get to the dental office, it takes an expert to safely treat a damaged tooth. If you glue a broken tooth, you risk having to undergo major work to correct your temporary fix—it's no easy task to "unglue" a tooth, and the chemicals in the glue may damage living tooth tissue as well as the surrounding gum and bone.
Would you know what to do in a dental emergency? Here are some guidelines:
- If you chip a tooth, save the missing piece if possible. We may be able to reattach it.
- If your tooth is cracked, rinse your mouth with warm water, but don't wiggle the tooth around or bite down on it. If it's bleeding, hold clean gauze to the area and call our office.
- If your tooth is knocked loose or is pushed deeper into the socket, don't force the tooth back into position on your own. Immediate attention is very important.
- If your tooth is knocked out, there's a chance it can be reattached. Pick up the tooth while being careful not to touch the root. Then rinse it off and have either someone place into its socket, or place it against the inside of your cheek or in a glass of milk. Please call the office immediately or go to a hospital.
What's the best thing to do in an emergency? Call us right away, and DON'T super glue your tooth! You can prevent worse problems by letting a professional handle any dental issues. And if you've been living with a chipped, broken or missing tooth, call us to schedule an appointment for a consultation—there are several perfectly safe ways to restore your smile. Meanwhile, if you practice martial arts to keep in shape, think twice before getting into the ring with Demi Lovato!
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