This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Maybe you don’t like to be without teeth — ever. Or maybe you get a little forgetful sometimes. Whatever the reason, if you’re wearing your dentures to bed at night, we have one message for you: Please stop!
Sleeping in dentures can have serious health consequences. A recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that nursing home residents who wore their dentures to sleep were 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized or even die of pneumonia as those who did not sleep in dentures. But how can wearing dentures at night more than double your chances of getting a lung infection?
As the study noted, pneumonia-causing bacteria can readily be moved from the mouth to the lungs simply by breathing. And dentures that are not removed at night can become breeding grounds for all kind of bacteria and fungi (such as yeast). That’s what makes them potentially dangerous.
Another condition often seen in people who wear upper dentures continually is called denture stomatitis, which is characterized by a red, inflamed palate (roof of the mouth) that has been infected with yeast. The yeast microorganisms can also infect cracked corners of the mouth, a condition known as angular cheilitis. Moreover, it has also been shown that people who sleep in dentures have higher blood levels of a protein called interleukin 6, which indicates that the body is fighting an infection. Need we go on?
Wearing dentures is supposed to improve your quality of life, not reduce it. So promote good health by taking your dentures out at night, and sticking to a good daily oral hygiene routine:
- Remove and rinse your dentures after every meal.
- Brush your dentures at least once a day with a soft toothbrush or denture brush and dish soap, liquid antibacterial soap, or denture cleanser (but don’t use toothpaste — it is too abrasive).
- Store your dentures in water or a solution made for this purpose.
- Brush your gums and tongue every day with a soft toothbrush (not the same one you clean your dentures with).
- Rinse your dentures in clean water before you put them back in your mouth.
What does spring mean to you? The season officially starts on March 20th, but depending where you live you might start seeing the signs earlier or later. We often think of spring as a time of new beginnings—when the first green buds appear and the earth wakes up from its winter sleep. Spring is also a great time to break out of those old winter routines and make positive changes in your life; for example, learning to manage stress, improving sleep habits and getting more exercise. To those worthy aims, we'd like to add one more suggestion: This spring, make it a goal to improve your oral hygiene!
Maintaining good oral hygiene often results in fewer cavities, reduced gum disease and better checkups at the dental office. But for some people it can mean a lot more. A growing body of research points to a connection between oral health and overall health—especially when it comes to systemic (whole-body) diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others. In many instances, improving oral health can lead to better management of these diseases.
So how do you start improving your oral hygiene? Glad you asked! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, AND floss once a day—every day! Use a soft-bristled toothbrush for gentle, effective cleaning.
- Limit between-meal snacks to give your mouth a chance to neutralize the acids that can cause tooth decay.
- Stay away from sweetened and acidic drinks like soda (even diet), so-called "sports" and "energy" drinks, and other foods and beverages with a high sugar content.
- Drink plenty of water to increase production of healthful saliva and keep your whole body properly hydrated.
- Visit the dental office regularly for checkups and professional cleanings. This is essential for good oral hygiene. A professional cleaning can remove hardened plaque deposits that can't be cleaned effectively at home. A thorough dental exam can find and resolve small problems before they become big headaches (or toothaches)—and even help prevent them from happening!
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best way to keep your smile healthy for your whole life. And having a bright, healthy smile is a great way to greet the new season!
If you have questions about oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall,” and “10 Tips For Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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.”
Tooth replacement at any age is a challenge, but especially for teenagers. Dental implants in particular may not be possible yet for teens or young adults whose jaws are still developing. Because it’s imbedded directly into bone, the implant will not move with the jaw as jaw growth occurs, making it look potentially unattractive.
The best solution could be a temporary replacement until their jaw reaches maturity. One such option is a removable partial denture (RPD), an artificial tooth set in an acrylic base that resembles gum tissue. Although we associate dentures with older adults, an RPD works well for teens as a temporary measure. Perhaps the best version for a younger person utilizes metal clips that fit over adjacent teeth and hold the RPD in place. Although quite resilient, the wearer needs to be careful when biting into something hard (like an apple or similar firm fruit) or the artificial tooth may break off.
Another option, a bonded bridge, is a fixed solution similar to a traditional bridge. Whereas a traditional bridge is supported by crowns affixed to the teeth on either side of the empty socket (and requiring extensive alteration of the teeth to accommodate them), a bonded bridge attaches to the supporting teeth with wing-like projections of dental material that attaches to the backs of the adjacent teeth, hidden from view. Although not as secure as a traditional bridge, they can conceivably endure until the teen’s jaw structure is ready for an implant or other permanent solution.
Choosing between an RPD and a bonded bridge will depend on a number of factors, including the teen’s individual bite, clenching or biting habits and the health and strength of supporting bone and gums. Regardless of the type of solution chosen, it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene, especially around a bridge. If bacterial plaque is allowed to build up on tooth surfaces, it could result in an infection that can damage both gums and bone, and reduce the chances of a successful implant in the future.
All these and other considerations should be discussed after a thorough examination. From there, we can advise you on the best course of action to restore both appearance and function until it’s time for a permanent restoration.
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