This month marks the 20th annual observance of Oral Cancer Awareness Month. Last year, over 50,000 people in the US were diagnosed with oral cancer, and over 10,000 people died from the disease. The 5-year survival rate for oral cancer is only around 57%, making it more deadly than many other types of cancer. But if oral cancer is caught and treated early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 80%. This is one reason why regular dental checkups are so important—we can be your best ally in detecting oral cancer in its early stages.
Oral cancer is particularly dangerous because it often develops without pain or obvious symptoms. Early detection greatly improves the chances of successful treatment, but signs of the disease frequently go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced. Fortunately, dentists and dental hygienists are trained to recognize signs of oral cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. Oral cancer can appear on any surface of the mouth and throat, with the tongue being the most common site, particularly along the sides, followed by the floor of the mouth. As part of a regular dental exam, we examine these surfaces for even subtle signs of the disease.
Screenings performed at the dental office are the best way to detect oral cancer, but between dental visits it's a good idea to check your own mouth for any of the following: white or red patches, lumps, hard spots, spots that bleed easily or sores that don't heal. Let us know if any of these symptoms don't go away on their own within two or three weeks.
Using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for oral cancer, especially in combination with alcohol consumption. Although the majority of people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 55, the fastest growing segment of new diagnoses are among young people due to the rise in cases of sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) in young adults.
A routine dental visit can do much more than preventing and treating tooth decay and gum disease—it might even save your life! If you have questions about oral cancer or are concerned about possible symptoms, call us as soon as possible to schedule an appointment for a consultation.
Somewhere between bites during a recent meal, the inside of your cheek found itself in the way of your teeth. You winced with pain at the resulting bite, and while it was sore for a day or two it seemed to heal over. Now, though, you’re noticing this same area of your cheek gets in the way of your teeth a lot more often, with more bites and sores.
What’s likely happened is that you have developed a traumatic fibroma. When the soft tissues of the inner cheek, lips or tongue heal after being injured, a small bit of fibrous tissue composed of the protein collagen forms like a callous over the bite wound to protect it after it heals. If, however, the process is interrupted by another bite, the fibrous tissue that subsequently forms may be thicker and thus more raised on the surface of the skin. This higher profile makes it more likely the site will be involved in repeated episodes of biting.
If the fibroma continues to be a problem, it can be solved with a simple surgical procedure. A surgically-trained dentist or oral surgeon will remove portions of the fibroma (usually with local anesthesia) to flatten the skin profile, and then close the resulting wound with a couple of stitches unless a laser was used. Any discomfort after the procedure can usually be managed with a mild anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen, and the site should heal in just a few days to a week.
Although the vast majority of fibromas aren’t dangerous, it’s routine practice to have the excised tissue biopsied for abnormalities. More than likely the fibroma tissue will be normal; but by having the fibroma removed and examined, you’ll gain peace of mind about your oral health. In the process, you’ll also eliminate a bothersome and painful problem.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, 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 “Aging & Dental Health.”
It might not rise to the level of a miracle, but cosmetic dentistry can achieve some amazing outcomes with unattractive teeth. A skilled and experienced dentist can turn "ugly ducklings" into beautiful "swans." And that achievement might not be as in-depth or expensive as you might think, thanks to the increased use of dental materials called composite resins.
Composite resins are pliable, tooth-colored materials we apply directly to tooth surfaces. They're most often used with broken, chipped or misshapen front teeth—the composite material replaces the missing tooth structure.
Composite resins have been around for decades, but haven't been widely used because they didn't have the strength of dental porcelain. In recent years, though, dentists have perfected techniques for bonding and shaping composites to teeth that have increased their durability. With just the right skill and artistry, composites can look like natural teeth.
We can correct many tooth flaws using composite resins right in our office. After roughening up the outer enamel surface of the tooth and performing other steps to aid bonding, we begin applying liquid resins to form a base layer that we then harden with a special light source. We continue to add layers to increase the color depth and shape of the restoration, before finally polishing it to resemble natural teeth.
Composite restorations are ideal for moderate tooth structure loss, but may not be appropriate for heavily worn, previously root canal-treated or fractured teeth. These and other kinds of flaws may require a different solution such as a dental porcelain restoration with veneers or crowns. Where composites can be used, though, they provide an affordable option that doesn't require an outside dental lab for fabrication—we can often perform it in one visit.
If you'd like to consider a composite resin restoration for a less than perfect tooth, see us for a complete examination and consultation. If your situation appears to be compatible for using this particular technique, composite resins could change your smile for the better in just a few minutes.
If you would like more information on how we can improve 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 “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin.”
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