Posts for: August, 2018
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.”
Along with periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay poses one of the two greatest threats to your teeth. Cavities are just the start: if decay invades the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, the infection created can continue to advance through the root canals to the supporting bone. This worst case scenario could cost you your tooth.
But we can stop this advanced decay in its tracks with a procedure called a root canal treatment. A root canal essentially removes all the infected tissue within the tooth and then seals it from further infection. And contrary to its undeserved reputation for being painful, a root canal can actually stop the severe tooth pain that decay can cause.
At the beginning of the procedure, we deaden the affected tooth and surrounding tissues with local anesthesia—you’ll be awake and alert, but without pain. We then isolate the tooth with a dental dam of thin rubber or vinyl to create a sterile environment around it to minimize contamination from bacteria found in saliva and the rest of the mouth.
We then drill a small hole through the enamel and dentin to access the interior of the tooth. With special instruments, we remove and clean out all the diseased or dead tissue in the pulp chamber and root canals. After disinfecting the empty spaces with an antibacterial solution, we’ll shape the root canals to make it easier to perform the next step of placing the filling.
To fill all the root canals and pulp chamber, we typically use a rubber-like material called gutta-percha. Because it’s thermoplastic (“thermo”—heat; “plastic”—to shape), we can compress it into and against the walls of the root canals in a heated state to fully seal them. This is crucial for preventing the empty tooth interior from becoming re-infected. Afterward, we’ll seal the access hole with its own filling; later, we’ll bond a permanent crown to the tooth for additional protection and cosmetic enhancement.
After the procedure you may have some temporary minor discomfort usually manageable with aspirin or ibuprofen, but your nagging toothache will be gone. More importantly, your tooth will have a second chance—and your dental health and smile will be the better for it.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
A loose permanent tooth is not a good thing—and not something you should put off having examined. That’s because a loose tooth could soon become a lost tooth.
How we treat it depends on its underlying cause, which could be one of two types. One is primary occlusal trauma, meaning the affected tooth has experienced accidental trauma or higher biting forces than it normally encounters. This usually happens because of teeth grinding habits.
It could also be secondary occlusal trauma. Unlike primary trauma where the supporting gums and bone may be reasonably healthy, secondary trauma occurs because these structures have been severely damaged by periodontal (gum) disease. As the gums begin to detach from a tooth and its underlying bone deteriorates, even normal biting forces can loosen it.
If gum disease is present, our first priority is to bring it under control. We do this primarily by removing all dental plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles that triggers the infection and sustains it) and calculus or tartar (calcified plaque). This can take several sessions and, in the case of deep infection, may require a surgical procedure.
On the other hand, if teeth grinding is the primary cause, we’ll focus on minimizing the habit and its effects. One way is to create a custom-fitted guard worn to prevent upper and lower teeth from making solid contact. You may also need to improve your management of stress—another factor in teeth grinding—through medication, therapy or biofeedback.
In either case, improved periodontal health will help the gums naturally regain their strong attachment with help, if necessary, from gum tissue or bone grafting surgery. But this healing process can take time, so we may need to secure a loose tooth in the interim by splinting it to neighboring stable teeth. This usually requires bonding rigid material or metal across the back of all involved teeth or in a channel cut along the teeth’s biting surfaces. In this way the more stable teeth support the loose one.
Splinting may be temporary as the mouth heals from disease or trauma and the teeth regain their stability. In some cases, though, it may be permanent. Either way, dealing promptly with a loose tooth can help ensure it’ll survive—so see your dentist as soon as possible.
If you would like more information on treating loose teeth, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”