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.
Tooth decay is a highly destructive dental disease, responsible along with periodontal (gum) disease for most adult tooth loss. And we become even more susceptible to it as we get older.
One form of decay that’s especially prominent among senior adults is a root cavity. Similar to a cavity in the crown (visible tooth), this form instead occurs at or below the gum line in the roots. They happen mainly because the roots have become exposed due to gum recession, a common consequence of periodontal (gum) disease and/or brushing too hard.
Exposed roots are extremely vulnerable to disease because they don’t have the benefit of protective enamel like the tooth crown, covered instead with a thin and less protective mineral-like material called cementum. Normally, that’s not a problem because the gums that would normally cover them offer the bulk of the protection. But with the gums receded, the roots must depend on the less-effective cementum for protection against disease.
Although we treat root cavities in a similar way to those in the crown by removing decayed structure and then filling them, there’s often an added difficulty in accessing them below the gum line. Because of its location we may need to surgically enter through the gums to reach the cavity. This can increase the effort and expense to treat them.
It’s best then to prevent them if at all possible. This means practicing daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the thin, built-up biofilm on teeth most responsible for both tooth decay and gum disease. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and advanced prevention methods like topical fluoride to strengthen any at-risk teeth.
You should also seek immediate treatment at the first sign of gum disease to help prevent gum recession. Even if it has occurred, treating the overall disease could help renew gum attachment. We may also need to support tissue regeneration with grafting surgery.
Root cavities are a serious matter that could lead to tooth loss. But by practicing prevention and getting prompt treatment for any dental disease, you can stop them from destroying your smile.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root cavities, 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
While many people still consider dental implants the "new kids on the block" in dental restoration, they're now in their fourth decade of use. And since their inception implant technology has continued to improve and revolutionize how we replace missing teeth.
Implants are a different "species" compared to other restoration methods. To be precise, an implant is a tooth root replacement—usually a titanium metal post imbedded directly into the jaw bone. Titanium is not only a biocompatible metal, but bone cells naturally grow on its surface to create a strong and durable hold. It's this secure hold that's most responsible for implants' high long-term success rate.
But we should also credit some of this success to the steady stream of advances over the years in implant construction and supporting technologies. For one thing, we're now more accurate and precise with implant placement thanks to advances in computer tomography (CT) and cone beam CT (CBCT) scanning.
These digital processes merge a series of images taken by a special camera to form a three-dimensional model of the jaw. We can manipulate this model on a computer monitor to view it from different vantage points. It can help us locate and avoid anatomical structures like nerves and sinuses when determining where to place a future implant. CT and CBCT are especially useful when there's a concern about adequate available bone, a necessity for stable implants.
Technology has also improved how we create surgical guides, often used during implant surgery to obtain the most accurate results. Surgical guides are custom-made devices that fit over the teeth with the drilling locations for the implants marked on them. Recent advances in 3-D printing have made these guides even more accurate so that they fit more securely in the mouth. This greater stability increases their accuracy during the drilling sequence during surgery.
These and other advances are helping ensure every implant is a success story. The end result is both a functional restoration and a beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “How Technology Aids Dental Implant Therapy.”
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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