Posts for: July, 2018
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.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
It’s easy to work up a thirst in the summer. You might be shooting hoops in the park, riding on a trail or playing volleyball on the beach. No matter what your favorite summertime activity is, outdoor fun can leave you dry—and then it’s time to reach for a cold one. But when your body craves hydration, what’s the best thing to drink?
The answer’s simple: water!
Sure, we’ve all seen those ads for so-called “energy” and “sports” drinks. But do you know what’s really in them? Sports drinks (all of those different “…ades”) are mostly water with some sugars, salts and acids. “Energy” drinks (often promoted as “dietary supplements” to avoid labeling requirements) also contain plenty of acids and sugars—and sometimes extremely high levels of caffeine!
Studies have shown the acid in both sports and energy drinks has the potential to erode the hard enamel coating of your teeth, making them more susceptible to decay and damage. And the sugar they contain feeds the harmful oral bacteria that cause tooth decay. So you could say that the ingredients in these beverages are a one-two punch aimed right at your smile.
It’s a similar story for sodas and other soft drinks, which often have high levels of sugar. In fact, some popular iced teas have 23 grams (almost 6 teaspoons) of sugar per 8-ounce serving—and a single 24-ounce can holds 3 servings! Many diet sodas (and some fruit juices) are acidic, and may damage your tooth enamel.
Water, on the other hand, has no acid and no sugar. It has no calories and no caffeine. Simple and refreshing, water gives your body the hydration it craves, with no unnecessary ingredients that can harm it. In fact, if you fill a reusable bottle from your own tap, you may not only benefit from cavity-fighting fluoride that’s added to most municipal tap water…you’ll also be helping the environment by cutting down on unnecessary packaging.
It’s best to drink water all of the time—but if you don’t, here are a few tips: If you want to enjoy the occasional soda or soft drink, try to limit it to around mealtimes so your mouth isn’t constantly bathed in sugar and acid. Swish some water around your mouth afterward to help neutralize the acidity of the drinks. And wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth; otherwise you might remove tooth enamel that has been softened by acids.
What you drink can have a big effect on your oral health—and your overall health. So when thirst strikes, reach for a cold glass of water. It can help keep you healthy this summer…and all year long.
If you would like more information about nutrition and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Think Before You Drink” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”