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.”
Physical pain is never pleasant or welcomed. Nevertheless, it’s necessary for your well-being—pain is your body telling you something isn’t right and needs your attention.
That fully applies to tooth pain. Not all tooth pain is the same—the intensity, location and duration could all be telling you one of a number of things that could be wrong. In a way, pain has its own “language” that can give us vital clues as to what’s truly causing it.
Here are 3 types of tooth pain and what they might be telling you about an underlying dental problem.
Sensitivity to hot or cold. If you’ve ever had a sharp, momentary pain after consuming something hot like coffee or cold like ice cream, this could indicate several causative possibilities. You might have a small area of tooth decay or a loose filling. You might also have an exposed root due to gum recession, which is much more sensitive to temperature or pressure changes. The latter is also a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
Acute or constant pain. If you’re feeling a severe and continuing pain from one particular area of your teeth (even if you can’t tell exactly which one), this could mean the pulp, the tooth’s innermost layer, has become infected with decay. The pain is emanating from nerves within the pulp coming under attack from the decay. To save the tooth, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the decayed tissue and seal the tooth from further infection. You should see your dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain suddenly stops—that only means the nerves have died, but the decay is still there and threatening your tooth.
Severe gum pain. If there’s an extremely painful spot on your gums especially sensitive to touch, then you may have an abscess. This is a localized area of infection that develops in the gums either as the result of periodontal (gum) disease, or an infection spreading from the tooth pulp into the gum tissues. You’ll need to see a dentist immediately for both pain relief and appropriate treatment (including a possible root canal) to heal the abscessed tissue.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and how to treat it, 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 Pain? Don’t Wait!”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Autumn begins in the month of September, a season that promises cooler days and longer nights. But more significantly for sports fans, September marks the start of football season. Football remains America’s favorite spectator sport—and it’s also played by countless college and high school athletes, as well as those who enjoy an occasional pickup game in the back yard or on the beach. Yet, like many contact sports, football (even touch football) carries a risk of injury—and one of the areas of the body most vulnerable to injury is the mouth.
Some of the most common dental injuries in contact sports include lacerations (cuts), tooth fractures, displacement (teeth pushed deeper into or out of their sockets), knocked-out teeth, and temporomandibular joint problems. While it’s hard to pin down the exact statistics, researchers estimate that over 5 million teeth are avulsed (completely knocked out) every year in the U.S. alone—a significant number of which are due to sports injuries. It is also estimated that the lifetime cost to treat an avulsed tooth ranges from $5,000 to $20,000!
Given the prevalence of sports-related dental injuries, it’s no wonder that protective devices have been developed to minimize the risk. Properly fitted mouthguards have been shown time and again to be effective at preventing many types of dental injuries. Yet the use of devices isn’t always required by rule-making organizations—and many casual players don’t use them at all. That’s a shame, because so many of the injuries are preventable.
Custom-made mouthguards are available right here at the dental office. Strong and durable, these protective devices are specially fabricated from a model of the player’s own teeth. That means they offer the maximum protection, yet can be comfortably worn during practices, backyard games or championships—an important consideration, since accidents often happen when least expected. (And if you’re a parent of a child who plays sports, that’s probably something you already know.)
It isn’t just football players who can benefit from mouthguards: Those with a passion for soccer, basketball, baseball, martial arts, and dozens of other sports can also get the protection they need from this small (but important) item. So this season, when you’re watching or playing your favorite game, think about the extra safety and peace of mind you could gain from a custom-made mouthguard.
If you have questions about custom-made mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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