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.”
After your son or daughter's dental exam, you expect to hear about cavities, poor bites or other dental problems. But your dentist might suggest a different kind of problem you didn't expect—an eating disorder.
It's not a fluke occurrence—a dental exam is a common way bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa come to light. That's because the teeth are often damaged by the behaviors of a patient with an eating disorder.
Most of this damage occurs because of purging, the practice of induced vomiting after eating. During vomiting stomach acid can enter the mouth and "wash" against the back of the teeth. After repeated episodes, the acid dissolves the mineral content of tooth enamel and causes it to erode. There's also a tell-tale pattern with eating disorders: because the tongue partially shields the back of the lower teeth while purging, the lower teeth may show less enamel erosion than the upper.
Hygiene practices, both negligent and too aggressive, can accelerate erosion. Anorexics often neglect basic grooming and hygiene like brushing and flossing, which increases the likelihood of dental disease. Bulimia patients, on the other hand, can be fastidious about their hygiene. They're more likely to brush immediately after purging, which can cause tiny bits of the enamel immediately softened by the acid wash to slough off.
In dealing with a family member's eating disorder, you should consider both a short and long-term approach to protect their dental health. In the sort-term the goal is to treat the current damage and minimize the extent of any future harm. In that regard, encourage them to rinse with water (mixed optionally with baking soda to help neutralize acid) after purging, and wait an hour before brushing. This will give saliva in the mouth a chance to fully neutralize any remaining acid. Your dentist may also recommend a sodium fluoride mouth rinse to help strengthen their tooth enamel.
For the long-term, your goal should be to help your loved one overcome this potentially life-threatening condition through counseling and therapy. To find out more about treatment resources near you, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. Taking steps to treat an eating disorder could save not only your loved one's dental health, but also their life.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental health, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Wearing orthodontic braces brings challenges to daily life. During treatment a patient will need to avoid certain foods and habits, take more time to brush and floss properly, and may endure occasional discomfort. But the effect of metal braces on appearance can be especially difficult, especially for peer-conscious teens.
Clear aligners, though, offer an alternative to braces that could make some of these challenges easier, particularly with your appearance. Aligners are clear plastic trays that fit over the teeth to move them. They can be removed by the wearer for easier brushing and flossing or for special occasions. Best of all, they're much less noticeable than metal braces.
Clear aligners were developed thanks to advances in digital technology. An orthodontist uses a computer application incorporating the data from photographs, x-rays or CT scans of a patient's teeth and jaws to produce a series of clear plastic trays. The patient then wears each tray for about two weeks before changing to the next tray in the sequence.
The trays apply pressure much like metal braces to gradually move teeth to the desired position on the jaw. Each tray is slightly smaller in size than the previous tray in the sequence, so that the progression of tooth movement continues with each succeeding tray. The treatment time is about the same as with conventional braces.
This new orthodontic tool works well for many common bite problems, but until recently they've been limited in scope. But new designs in trays and attachments called buttons added to teeth to provide more leverage have greatly increased their use for more complex bite issues.
Clear aligners also have one other disadvantage, ironically due to one of their principal benefits, removability. Although they can be taken out, they must be worn consistently to achieve results. Some younger patients may not have the maturity level and discipline to responsibly wear their aligners as they should.
That's one issue you'll need to discuss with your orthodontist if you're considering clear aligners for your teen. But if they can maintain wearing consistency, and they have a bite problem that can be corrected with aligners, both you and your teen may find this choice more agreeable and attractive than braces.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
We all know that a child's baby teeth don't last forever. So if those little teeth develop problems, like severe decay, chips or cracks, it doesn't much matter—right? Wrong! National Children's Dental Health Month, observed in February, is the perfect occasion to remember why baby teeth need the same meticulous care as adult teeth:
- Baby teeth perform the exact same jobs adult teeth do, only in little mouths. Without healthy teeth, a child can't eat comfortably, speak properly or smile with confidence. Given that the last baby tooth doesn't fall out until around age 12, children need to rely on these "temporary" teeth for a long time!
- While there often are no symptoms of early tooth decay, badly decayed baby teeth can become painful—and the problem may get worse quickly. Untreated tooth decay can lead to suffering and expense that could have been avoided with relatively simply dental treatment.
- Baby teeth help guide adult teeth into the right position. Each baby tooth helps hold the right amount of space open for the next tooth that will grow in. When a baby tooth is lost before the permanent replacement is ready to grow in, orthodontic problems can result.
As you can see, good dental health has a big impact on a child's quality of life and health—in both the present and the future. That's why it's important to treat childhood dental disease and injuries promptly and properly. Regular dental exams are the best way to keep on top of your child's dental health. If a cavity is discovered at a routine exam, prompt treatment can keep the decay from spreading to the root canals.
If your child plays sports, ask us about a custom-made mouthguard. This small device can protect your child's teeth from serious injury. And if a baby tooth does get knocked out, let us know. It may be best to fit your child with a very small dental device called a space maintainer, which will hold that empty space open until the permanent tooth beneath it grows in.
If you would like more information about children's dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
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