Posts for: May, 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.”
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the month of May? Balmy breezes? Sweet-smelling flowers? How about root canal treatment?
The last item might seem out of place…but for the last ten years, Root Canal Awareness week has been celebrated in May. So let’s take a closer look at this important—and often misunderstood—dental procedure.
What we commonly call a “root canal” is a special treatment that can save diseased teeth which might otherwise be lost. But the root canal itself is actually a set of hollow, branching passages deep inside the hard outer tissue of the tooth. The tiny “canals” contain the tooth’s soft pulp, including nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue. These tissues help teeth grow during childhood but aren’t necessary in healthy adult teeth—and, what’s worse, they can become infected via deep cavity or a crack in the tooth’s outer layers.
When bacteria infect the pulp tissue, the inflammation often causes intense discomfort. In time, the harmful microorganisms can also pass through the tooth’s root and into the tissue of the jaw, resulting in a painful abscess. Eventually, if it isn’t treated, the tooth will likely be lost.
Root canal treatment is designed to remove the infection, relieve the pain…and save the tooth. It is usually performed under anesthesia for your comfort. To begin the procedure, a small hole is made in the tooth’s enamel to give access to the pulp; then, tiny instruments are used to remove the diseased tissue and disinfect the tooth. Finally, it is sealed up against re-infection. Following treatment, a cap (or crown) is often needed to restore the tooth’s full function and appearance.
Despite some rumors you may have heard, root canal treatment is neither very painful nor likely to cause other health problems. So if you come across these discredited ideas, remember that dentists and dental specialists called endodontists perform some 25 million root canal procedures every year—and this treatment method has been validated for decades.
Of course, like any medical procedure, root canal treatment is not 100% successful. While the procedure has a very high success rate, it’s possible that additional treatments will be needed in some cases. However, the alternative—extracting the tooth—has similar potential downsides; plus a replacement tooth will be needed to avoid the health and lifestyle troubles caused by missing teeth. But one thing is certain: Ignoring disease in the tooth’s soft tissues isn’t a good move, because the infection won’t go away on its own—and down the road it will only get worse.
So this May, while you’re taking time to smell the flowers, spare a thought for the often-misunderstood root canal. If you’d like more information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Enamel — that tough, outermost tooth layer — protects your teeth from all sorts of hazards, from bacterial attack to temperature extremes. But although the hardest substance in the human body, enamel has a mortal enemy — acid. High acid levels can cause the minerals in enamel to dissolve, a process called de-mineralization. And although saliva can neutralize these levels in approximately 45-60 minutes and restore some of the enamel’s lost minerals, a constant acidic environment can overwhelm this natural mechanism.
That’s why you should be careful with the amount and frequency of acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits or coffee. You should be especially concerned about your intake of sodas, energy drinks or sports drinks. The latter in particular are designed to replace fluids and nutrients during intense exercise or sports events, but are often consumed as a regular beverage. And all these drinks mentioned are often sipped on throughout the day, resulting in a constant wash of acid in your mouth that can interrupt the protective response of saliva.
There’s one other source for high mouth acidity that comes not from outside the body but from within. GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease — is a condition in which digestive acid refluxes (flows back) into the esophagus. While chronic acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus and lead to ulcers or even cancer, it may also pose a danger to teeth if the acid regularly rises into the mouth. Individuals encountering this will know it by the awful, acrid taste of vomit in their mouth.
To reduce the chances of high mouth acid due to food intake, limit the consumption of acidic foods and beverages to meal times and sports drink consumption to strenuous exercise or sporting events. Better yet, consider the greatest hydrator of all, water — with a neutral pH of 7.
If you’re experiencing chronic heartburn or other GERD symptoms, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. Many treatments are effective and will not only improve your general health but may also help preserve your tooth enamel.
If you would like more information on the effect of acid in the mouth and how to reduce 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 articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “GERD — Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease.”