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.”
A toothache means a tooth has a problem, right? Most of the time, yes: the pain comes from a decayed or fractured tooth, or possibly a gum infection causing tooth sensitivity.
Sometimes, though, the pain doesn't originate with your teeth and gums. They're fine and healthy—it's something outside of your tooth causing the pain. We call this referred pain—one part of your body is sending or referring pain to another part, in this instance around your mouth.
There are various conditions that can create referred pain in the mouth, and various ways to treat them. That's why you should first find out the cause, which will indicate what treatment course to take.
Here are a few common non-dental causes for tooth pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia. The trigeminal nerves situated on either side of the face have three large branches that extend throughout the face; the branch to the jaw allows you to feel sensation as you chew. When one of the nerve branches becomes inflamed, usually from a blood vessel or muscle spasm pressing on it, it can refer the pain to the jaw and seem like a toothache.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD). These two joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull can sometimes become dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. This can set up a cycle of spasms and pain that can radiate throughout the jaw and its associated muscles. The pain can mimic a toothache, when it actually originates in the jaw joints.
Teeth Grinding. This is an unconscious habit, often occurring at night, in which people clench or grind their teeth together. Although quite common in children who tend to grow out of it, teeth grinding can continue into adulthood. The abnormally high biting forces from this habit can cause chipped, broken or loosened teeth. But it can also cause jaw pain, headaches and tenderness in the mouth that might feel like a toothache.
These and other conditions unrelated to dental disease can seem like a tooth problem, when they're actually something else. By understanding exactly why you're feeling pain, we can then focus on the true problem to bring relief to your life.
We can do a great many things to preserve diseased teeth, from filling cavities to crowning damaged but still viable teeth to protect them and restore their attractiveness. But there may come a point where continued treatment just isn't worth it, and it may be time to remove and replace your troubled teeth.
Dental implants have become the premier restoration for missing teeth. But they have some anatomical limitations and may not work for some situations like excessive bone loss or close nerve proximity. And while a removable partial denture is a solid option, perhaps you'd rather have a fixed solution.
You might then want to consider a fixed bridge to replace one or more missing teeth. This tried and true option has been a mainstay in dentistry for several decades; and while implants may have surpassed them in popularity, they're still available and effective as a restorative option.
A traditional fixed bridge is composed of three or more life-like crowns that are fused together like pickets in a fence. The crown or crowns in the middle fill the empty tooth space; the outside crowns fit over and are bonded to the natural teeth on either side of the empty space to support the bridge. These natural teeth must be reduced in size to accommodate the crowns to fit over them.
Depending on how many teeth are missing, fixed bridges can be a more affordable alternative to dental implants and can achieve life-like results in both form and dental function. But the alterations required for the supporting teeth are permanent and can weaken them. The interface between the natural teeth and the bridge crowns has a higher risk of decay and periodontal disease, so you'll need to be extra vigilant with daily hygiene and regular dental cleanings and checkups.
And even though implants can be more expensive in the short-term, they typically have better durability and less maintenance costs than other restorations. Over the long-term, an implant restoration might actually incur less cost than a fixed bridge.
Still, a fixed bridge can be an effective way to replace missing teeth. Depending on your finances and your overall dental health, a bridge could help you regain an attractive smile.
If you would like more information on options for replacing missing 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 “Crowns & Bridgework.”
If your dentist found tooth decay on your last visit, you might have been surprised. But tooth decay doesn't occur suddenly—it's a process that takes time to unfold.
It begins with bacteria—too many, that is. Bacteria naturally live in the mouth, but when their populations grow (often because of an abundance of leftover sugar to feed on) they produce high amounts of acid, a byproduct of their digestion. Too much acid contact over time softens and eventually erodes tooth enamel, making decay easier to advance into the tooth.
So, one important strategy for preventing tooth decay is to keep your mouth's bacterial population under control. To do that, here are 4 common-sense tactics you should perform between dental visits.
Practice daily hygiene. Bacteria thrive in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. By both brushing and flossing you can reduce plaque buildup and in turn reduce disease-causing bacteria. In addition, brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can also help strengthen tooth enamel against acid attacks.
Cut back on sugar. Reducing how much sugar you eat—and how often –deprives bacteria of a prime food source. Constant snacking throughout the day on sweets worsens the problem because it prevents saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer, from reducing high acid levels produced while eating. Constant snacking doesn't allow saliva to complete this process, which normally takes about thirty minutes to an hour. To avoid this scenario, limit any sweets you eat to mealtimes only.
Wait to brush after eating. Although this sounds counterintuitive, your tooth enamel is in a softened state until saliva completes the acid neutralizing process previously described. If you brush immediately after eating you could brush away tiny particles of softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth out with water and wait an hour for saliva to do its work before brushing.
Boost your saliva. Inadequate saliva flow could inhibit the fluid's ability to adequately neutralize acid or provide other restorative benefits to tooth enamel. You can improve flow with supplements or medications, or by drinking more water during the day. Products with xylitol, a natural sugar alternative, could give you a double benefit: chewing gums and mints containing it could stimulate more saliva flow and the xylitol itself can inhibit bacterial growth.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
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