Posts for: February, 2018

SteelyDanFoundersDeathHighlightsImportanceofEarlyCancerDetection

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.┬áIf 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.”


PromptTreatmentforGumDiseaseCouldUltimatelySaveYourTeeth

Your smile isn’t the same without healthy gums—neither are your teeth, for that matter. So, maintaining your gums by protecting them from periodontal (gum) disease is a top priority.

Gum disease is caused by bacterial plaque, a thin biofilm that collects on teeth and is not removed due to poor oral hygiene practices. Infected gums become chronically inflamed and begin to weaken, ultimately losing their firm attachment to the teeth. This can result in increasing voids called periodontal pockets that fill with infection. The gums can also shrink back (recede), exposing the tooth roots to further infection.

Although gum disease treatment techniques vary, the overall goal is the same: remove the bacterial plaque fueling the infection. This most often involves a procedure called scaling with special hand instruments to manually remove plaque and calculus (tartar). If the infection has spread below the gum line we may need to use a procedure called root planing in which we scrape or “plane” plaque and calculus from the root surfaces.

As we remove plaque, the gums become less inflamed. As the inflammation subsides we often discover more plaque and calculus, requiring more treatment sessions. Hopefully, our efforts bring the disease under control and restorative healing to the gums.

But while gum tissue can regenerate on its own, it may need some assistance if the recession was severe. This assistance can be provided through surgical procedures that graft donor tissues to the recession site. There are a number of microsurgical approaches that are all quite intricate to perform, and will usually require a periodontist (a specialist in gum structures) to achieve the most functional and attractive result.

While we have the advanced techniques and equipment to treat and repair gum disease damage, the best approach is to try to prevent the disease from occurring at all. Prevention begins with daily brushing and flossing, and continues with regular dental cleanings and checkups.

And if you do notice potential signs of gum disease like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, call us promptly for an examination. The sooner we diagnose and begin treatment the less damage this progressive disease can do to your gums—and your smile.

If you would like more information on protecting your gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”


EarlyActionNeededtoSaveYourToothfromRootResorption

Along with the gums, your teeth’s roots help stabilize them. Without them your teeth couldn’t handle the normal biting forces you encounter every day. That’s why a rare condition called root resorption must be treated promptly: this gradual breakdown and dissolving of root structure could eventually cause you to lose your tooth.

Resorption is normal in primary (“baby”) teeth giving way for permanent teeth or sometimes during orthodontic treatment. But the form of resorption we’re referring to in permanent teeth isn’t normal, and is highly destructive.

The condition begins in most cases outside the tooth and works its way in, usually at the gum line around the cervical or “neck-like” region of the tooth (hence the term external cervical resorption or ECR). ECR produces pink spots on the teeth in its early stages: these are spots of weakened enamel filled with pink-colored cells that cause the actual damage. The cells create cavity-like areas that can continue to enlarge.

We don’t fully understand what causes ECR, but there seems to be links with excessive force during orthodontics, tooth trauma (especially to the gum ligaments), tooth grinding habits or internal bleaching procedures. However, most people with these problems don’t develop ECR, so the exact mechanism remains a bit of a mystery.

The good news, though, is that we can treat ECR effectively, provided we discover it before it inflicts too much damage. That’s why regular dental visits are important, coupled with your own observation of anything out of the ordinary and immediate dental follow-up.

If the affected area is relatively small, we may be able to remove the cells causing the damage and repair the area with a tooth-colored filling. If it appears the pulp (the tooth’s innermost layer) is involved, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to remove infected tissue and fill the empty space with a special filling. You may also need other procedures to reduce the chances of gum recession around the affected tooth.

Proactive dental care is your best insurance against losing a tooth to root resorption. So keep an eye on your teeth and see your dentist regularly to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

If you would like more information on the signs and treatments for root resorption, 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 Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”