Posts for: October, 2019
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.”
Here's an alarming statistic: Nearly half of adults over 30—and 70% over 65—are affected by periodontal (gum) disease. It's sobering because if not caught and treated early, gum disease can lead to not only tooth loss but also an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Gum disease most often begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces mainly from poor oral hygiene. Undisturbed plaque can become a breeding ground for bacteria that cause gum infections.
Daily brushing and flossing can remove most of this plaque buildup, but you also need to get professional dental cleanings at least twice a year. This is because any plaque you missed brushing and flossing can interact with saliva and harden into calculus or tartar. This hardened plaque can't be dislodged through brushing and flossing alone, but requires special instruments used by dental professionals to remove it.
You should also be aware of other risk factors you may have that increase your chances of gum disease and take action to minimize them. For instance, you may have a higher genetic propensity toward gum disease. If so, you'll need to be extra-vigilant with personal hygiene and watch for any signs of disease.
Tobacco use, especially smoking, can double your chances of gum disease as well as make it difficult to notice any signs of disease because your gums will not bleed or swell. Quitting the habit can vastly improve your odds of avoiding an infection. Your disease risk could also be high if you have a diet heavy in sugar, which feeds bacteria. Avoiding sugary foods and eating a more dental-friendly diet can lower your disease risk.
Oral hygiene and managing any other risk factors can greatly reduce your risk for gum disease, but it won't eliminate it entirely. So, be sure you seek professional dental care at the first signs of swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. The sooner you undergo treatment for a possible gum infection, the better your chances of avoiding extensive damage to your teeth, gums and supporting bone.
The risk for gum disease goes up as we get older. But by following good hygiene and lifestyle practices, you can put yourself on the healthier side of the statistics.
If you would like more information on gum disease care and treatment, 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 Gum Disease Gets Started.”
To keep a healthy smile, brushing and flossing your teeth every day should be at the top of your to-do list, along with regular dental visits. Dental visits are usually scheduled every six months when your dental professional will remove any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) missed during everyday hygiene.
If you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, however, these dental visits may become even more important toward preventing a re-infection. For one thing, your dentist may want to see you more frequently.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria living in dental plaque, which first infect the superficial layers of gum tissue. Even though the body initiates an inflammatory response to fight it, the infection continues to grow as long as there is plaque present to fuel it. The problem isn't just plaque on the visible tooth surface—hidden plaque beneath the gum line can create deep pockets of infection that can be difficult to treat.
To stop the infection, dentists must manually remove plaque through procedures known as scaling and root planing. Any and all plaque and tartar deposits must be removed, even those deep around the roots, to arrest the infection. This often requires several treatment sessions and sometimes gum surgery to access areas below the gum line.
These types of treatments, especially in the disease's early stages, have a good chance of restoring health to your gums. But because of the high possibility of reinfection, your dentist will need to step up your regular dental maintenance from now on. This could mean visits as frequent as every few weeks, depending on your particular case of gum disease and your dentist's recommendation.
Your dental visits after gum disease may also become more involved than before. Your dentist will now monitor you closely for any signs of reinfection and at the first sign initiate a new round of treatment. You may also need surgical procedures to make some areas around your teeth more accessible for future cleaning and maintenance.
Periodontal maintenance after gum disease helps ensure another infection doesn't rise up to undermine your progress. To paraphrase a well-known quote, eternal vigilance is the price of continuing good dental health.