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.”
Dental implants are widely considered by both dentists and patients as the premier choice for replacing missing teeth. Unfortunately, implants aren’t the appropriate choice for teenagers with missing teeth.
That’s because their jaws won’t fully finish most of their growth and development until early adulthood. An implant placed too early could become misaligned as the jaw matures. The best approach for a teenager is a temporary restoration until they’re old enough for an implant.
There are a couple of good options. One is a removable partial denture (RPD), prosthetic (false) teeth set in an acrylic base that mimics gum tissue at the locations of the missing teeth. RPDs, which stay in place by way of metal clips that fit over other teeth, are easy to wear and maintain.
On the downside, an RPD can break if you bite into something too hard. They can lose their fit and may need to be replaced with a new one. And, some teens aren’t quite keen on wearing a “denture.”
Another option is a bonded or Maryland bridge, a kind of fixed bridge. We bond dental material to the back of a prosthetic tooth with portions of the material extending out from either side of it.Â We then bond these extending tabs to the back of the teeth on either side of the prosthetic tooth to hold it in place. Unlike traditional bridges, we can eventually remove it without any permanent alterations to the teeth it’s attached to.
Before we undertake a bonded bridge, though, we must make sure the gums and bone of the surrounding teeth are free from periodontal (gum) disease and are healthy and strong enough to support the bridge. We also need to be sure the patient doesn’t have a deep bite or a teeth grinding habit, which could cause the teeth to make contact with the tabs and break them.
The patient also needs the maturity to responsibly perform diligent oral hygiene: this type of bridge has a tendency to build up disease-causing plaque, so brushing twice and flossing once every day is critical. Not doing so increases the risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, which could complicate a future implant.
We can discuss these options after a thorough dental examination of your teenager. Either way, we’ll be able to restore your teen’s smile until we can undertake a more permanent restoration.
“Don’t panic” is your first priority when faced with a sudden mouth injury. Of course, that may be easier said than done when you or a family member has just experienced a chipped, fractured or even dislodged tooth.
It helps, therefore, to have some idea beforehand on what to do and, especially, when to do it. You should think in terms of immediate, urgent and less urgent injuries: a tooth completely knocked out of its socket requires immediate action — within 5 minutes of the injury; a tooth that’s moved out of its normal position but still in the socket is an urgent matter that needs professional attention within 6 hours; and a chipped tooth is less urgent, but still needs to be seen by a dentist within 12 hours.
As you may have gathered, the most important thing you can do when a dental injury occurs is to contact our office as soon as possible. If for some reason you can’t, you should visit the nearest emergency center.
There are also some actions you should take for a knocked-out permanent tooth because there’s a chance it can be replanted in the socket if you act within 5 minutes of the injury. First, rinse the tooth with cold, clean water (bottled or tap) if it’s dirty. Be sure to handle it gently, avoiding touching the root. Grasping the crown-end with your thumb and index finger, place the tooth into the empty socket and push it firmly into place. Apply light but firm pressure with your hand or a wad of wet tissue to make sure it doesn’t come out. Don’t worry about correct alignment — we can adjust that later during examination.
If the tooth is chipped or broken, try to locate the broken pieces — it may be possible to re-bond them to the tooth. You should store them in a container with milk or the injured person’s saliva (the same can be done for a knocked out tooth if reinserting it isn’t practical). The broken pieces should then be transported with the injured person to emergency treatment.
Taking these actions may not ultimately save a traumatized tooth, but they will certainly raise its chances for survival.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental injuries, 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 “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
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