Your regular dental checkups should periodically include an important screening for oral cancer, especially as you grow older. Although oral cancers make up less than 3% of all other types, they’re among the most deadly with a 58% survival rate after five years.
Besides hereditary factors, oral cancer is strongly linked to tobacco use, alcohol abuse or diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s also a greater concern as we age: 90% of new cases of oral cancer occur in people over the age of 40, heightening the need for regular screenings. These screenings become all the more important because many early sores or lesions can mimic other conditions like canker sores — without early detection, the disease could already be in advanced stages when it’s diagnosed.
An oral screening for cancer involves both sight and touch. We’ll first look for any suspicious lesions and red or white patches in the soft tissues of the face, neck, lips and mouth. We’ll then feel for any abnormal lumps on the mouth floor, the sides of the neck and in gland locations. We’ll also examine all sides of the tongue including underneath, as well as the tissues lining the back of your throat.
If we notice anything that’s concerning we may then perform a biopsy by removing a small bit of the suspicious tissue and have it examined microscopically for the presence of cancer cells. We may also remove any lesions deemed pre-cancerous as an added precaution against possible cancer development.
The American Cancer Society recommends an oral cancer screening annually for people forty years or older and every three years for people between the ages of 20 and 39. Even better, we recommend all adults undergo a screening every year. This, along with ending tobacco use and other lifestyle and dietary changes, will greatly improve your chances of remaining free of oral cancer.
If you would like more information on detecting and treating oral cancer, 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 “Oral Cancer.”
Modern life can be demanding. The body helps us rise to the occasion through responses we collectively call stress.
But while stress can be a good thing, it can also overwhelm us and manifest in some harmful way: bouts of back pain, stomach ulcers or even acne. It could also trigger tooth grinding, often occurring as we sleep. And like other stress relievers, tooth grinding can be detrimental to your health long term.
Teeth-on-teeth contact occurs normally when we eat or speak, or simply as our jaws contact each other with glancing touches hundreds if not thousands of times a day. Such normal contact is beneficial because it stimulates healthy bone growth in the jaw. But if the forces created exceed the normal range as with tooth grinding (up to ten times), it can cause a bevy of problems to the teeth and jaws.
While excessive jaw motion during teeth grinding can cause inflammation and painful spasms in the muscles, the greater danger is to the teeth, which could even fracture from the high amount of force. The more common occurrence, though, is an increased rate of enamel erosion, which causes the tooth to lose vital structure and eventually appear shorter in appearance.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce teeth grinding or its severity. The first order of business is to treat its effects by reducing its symptoms and ongoing damage. We can recommend some behavior modification techniques to alter the frequency of the habit or a night guard to protect the teeth from the intensity of the habit if you’re unable to change the behavior.
A custom-fitted night or occlusal guard, a retainer-like dental appliance made of smooth acrylic plastic is designed so that the lower teeth glide over the guard surface when grinding and can’t make solid contact with the upper teeth. This reduces the generated force and helps protect the teeth.
In the long term, though, you should address the root cause — how you’re handling daily stress. Treatment by a psychotherapist or counselor, for example, could help you develop ways to channel stress in more productive ways.
However your treatment strategy develops, it’s important to address stress and teeth grinding as soon as possible. Controlling it will have long-term benefits for your teeth and smile.
If you would like more information on dealing with stress that causes tooth grinding, 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 “Stress & Tooth Habits.”
Our main focus as your dentist is to keep your teeth and gums healthy and functional. But there’s another important aspect of care — your teeth’s appearance. It’s not just a superficial concern: your smile can have a profound effect on your self-image, as well as your personal and professional relationships.
This is the realm of cosmetic dentistry: served by both specialists and general dentists, it focuses on altering your teeth’s appearance with treatments as basic as teeth whitening or as comprehensive as dental implants. The goal, however, is the same: a new, more attractive smile.
In a way, cosmetic dentistry begins with you and oral hygiene. The twin tasks of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque not only lowers your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, they also improve the appearance of the tooth surface. There are, however, circumstances where otherwise healthy or repaired teeth may need extra cosmetic attention due to chipping, misshape or staining. In these cases, a truly cosmetic approach may be necessary.
One approach is to cover a tooth’s blemishes. Veneers, for example, are thin, layered pieces of dental porcelain shaped and colored like natural teeth that are bonded to the outside of an unattractive tooth. In other cases, a tooth may require a life-like porcelain crown that completely covers it to gain the same effect.
Missing teeth, of course, pose a different challenge, but here there are a wide range of solutions: dental implants, fixed bridgework or removable full or partial dentures. Advancements in dental materials and techniques can produce new teeth that are so life-like and natural that they’re imperceptible from the real thing.
Â These and other measures like orthodontics can all be used to turn a smile you find embarrassing into one you’re confident to share with the world. It begins, though, with both you and us taking a good, close look at your current smile — a smile analysis, if you will.
After assessing both your current needs and your expectations for change, we can develop an appropriate treatment plan. It might be quite simple or with multiple treatment stages, but it will be the best plan for you. Through cosmetic dentistry we have the means to help you achieve a new, more confident smile.
If you would like more information on the many ways to transform your smile, 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 “Cosmetic Dentistry: A Time for Change.”
Most first-time root canal treatments achieve their purpose in saving an internally decayed tooth and extending its life to match those of the patient’s non-decayed teeth. Occasionally, though, a root canal-treated tooth may become re-infected by decay.
There are a number of reasons for this: the permanent crown meant to add further protection against decay may have been delayed, giving bacteria an opening to re-infect the tooth; it’s also possible the original seal for the pulp chamber and root canals after filling wasn’t sufficient to prevent bacterial contamination.
There‘s also another reason that’s very difficult to foresee — the presence of narrow, curved root canals in the tooth that can pose complications during the procedure. Some of these known as accessory or lateral canals branch off the main canals to create a complex network that’s difficult to detect during the initial procedure. If they’re not cleaned out and filled during the procedure any tissue trapped in them can remain infected and ultimately die. If these canals also open into the periodontal membrane at the attachment between the teeth and bone, the infection can spread there and become a periodontal (gum) infection that can trigger future tooth loss.
Fortunately, a reoccurrence of infection isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a tooth. A second root canal treatment can correct any problems encountered after the first treatment, especially complications from accessory canals. It may, though, require the advanced skills of an endodontist, a dental specialist in root canal problems. Endodontists use microscopic equipment to detect these smaller accessory canals, and then employ specialized techniques to fill and seal them.
If you encounter pain or other signs of re-infection for a tooth previously treated with a root canal procedure, contact us as soon as possible. The sooner we can examine and diagnose the problem, the better your tooth’s chances of survival by undergoing a second root canal treatment.
If you would like more information on tooth preservation through root canal 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 “Accessory Canals.”
Stained teeth can be embarrassing — so much so you may even hesitate to smile. Before you seek out a whitening solution, though, there are a few things you need to know about tooth staining.
Tooth staining is more complex than you might think. There are actually two types: extrinsic, staining from foods and other substances of the outer surface of the enamel; and intrinsic, discoloration deep within a tooth that affects their outward appearance. The latter staining has a number of causes, including the type of dental materials used to fill a tooth, a history of trauma or the use of the antibiotic tetracycline during early tooth development.
There are some noticeable differences between the two types, although an examination is usually necessary to determine which you have. Extrinsic staining tends to be brown, black, or gray, or occasionally green, orange or yellow. Intrinsic staining can be red, pink or, if caused by tetracycline and fluoresced under ultraviolet light, yellow. If only one tooth is discolored it’s most likely intrinsic due to decay in the tooth pulp.
What can be done also depends on which type. Extrinsic staining can be modified through whitening, with either an office application or a home kit (there are differences, so you should consult with us before you decide). It may also be essential to modify your diet by restricting foods and beverages (coffee, wine or tea) known to cause staining and by eliminating tobacco use. You should also practice daily hygiene, including brushing with a toothpaste designed to diminish staining, and regular office cleaning and polishing.
Intrinsic staining can’t be addressed by these methods. Instead, you may need to undergo a procedure where we enter the interior of the tooth and insert a bleaching agent. If this isn’t an option, you can also choose a cosmetic restoration such as a porcelain veneer or crown that will cover the tooth to better match the color of your other teeth.
Dealing with stained teeth begins with a visit to our office to determine what type of discoloration you have and to learn your options. But regardless of what type you have, there is a way to a brighter smile.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of tooth staining, 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 “Tooth Staining.”
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