Posts for category: Oral Health
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.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Finally — your braces are off! A look in the mirror reveals a straighter, more attractive smile. Unfortunately, it may also show something not so attractive — tiny, chalky spots on your teeth.
These “white spot lesions” are created by acid remaining too long in contact with the enamel, causing it to lose minerals at those places. The acid comes from plaque (a thin film of bacteria and food particles) that brushing and flossing fail to remove. Snacking on foods and beverages with added sugar or high acid content may also make it worse.
Besides their unattractiveness, these spots can lead to tooth decay — so it’s important to try to prevent it. Limiting sugar-added snacks and acidic beverages to mealtimes will help, but the main key to preventing lesions is more thorough brushing and flossing.
Because of the braces, this can take longer to do than if you weren’t wearing them. It’s also more difficult maneuvering your toothbrush or floss around the orthodontic hardware. You can improve thoroughness and access by using a powered brush or one specially designed for use with braces. And, a water flosser that removes plaque between teeth with a pulsating spray of water is an effective alternative to string floss.
Even if (despite your best efforts) some lesions form, we can still treat them. Resuming normal hygiene practices after braces may take care of it — if not, we can strengthen the affected areas of the enamel with pastes, gels, or other topical fluoride applications. We can also use a technique called caries infiltration that injects tooth-colored resin (often used for cosmetic dentistry) beneath the white spot to harden it, and leave it more translucent in resemblance of normal enamel. If these fail to produce satisfactory results, we can use cosmetic bonding that permanently covers the tooth with resin or veneers.
It’s best, though, if you can prevent the lesions while you’re wearing braces. Besides daily hygiene, be sure to keep up regular dental visits for teeth cleaning. Your efforts will go a long way toward keeping your newly aligned teeth bright and blemish-free.
If you would like more information on dental care and hygiene while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
On your way to a more attractive smile, you’ll have to deal with some inconveniences while wearing braces like avoiding certain foods or habits or dealing with possible embarrassment about your new “metal smile.” But there’s one consequence of wearing braces that could dramatically affect your dental health: the difficulty they pose for keeping your teeth clean of dental plaque.
Dental plaque is a thin film of bacteria and food particles that if allowed to build up on tooth surfaces could trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Brushing and flossing thoroughly every day helps prevent this buildup.
Unfortunately, metal brackets and wires can get in the way and cause you to miss areas while performing these hygiene tasks. This could cause plaque buildup in those isolated areas that could trigger an infection. And if you (or someone you love) are also a teenager, the natural adolescent surge in hormones can increase your infection risk.
If while wearing braces you notice your gums are reddened, swollen or bleeding when you brush, these are all signs of infection and the body’s inflammatory response to it. The longer the infection continues, the weaker the tissues become, causing them to gradually detach from the teeth. Along with bone deterioration (another effect of the disease), this can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
To prevent this from happening, you’ll need to be as thorough as possible with daily brushing and flossing. To help make it easier, you can use special tools like an interproximal brush that can maneuver around the braces better than a regular brush. For flossing you can use a floss threader to more readily guide floss between teeth or a water flosser that uses a pressurized stream of water rather than floss thread to remove plaque.
This extra cleaning effort while wearing braces can greatly reduce your disease risk. But you’ll still need to keep an eye out for any symptoms like swollen or bleeding gums, and see your dentist as soon as possible. If the symptoms become severe you may need your braces removed until the disease can be brought under control. The health and future vitality of your teeth and gums is what’s of primary importance.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”