Rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen died last fall after a long battle with oral cancer, another in a long line of performers, athletes, politicians and other well-known personalities with this serious form of cancer. But household names like Van Halen are just the tip of the iceberg: Around 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year.
Although not as common as other malignancies (around 2.5% of total cancers), oral cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates at a dismal 57%. Part of the reason for this has been the longstanding difficulty detecting it in its earlier stages: Early signs are easy to miss or mistake for a benign sore. As a result, it's often diagnosed after advancing significantly, complicating treatment efforts.
To improve survivability, the Oral Cancer Foundation designates each April as Oral Cancer Awareness Month to better educate people on this deadly disease. Here are 3 things you can do to prevent oral cancer or improve your survival odds if you encounter it.
Know your individual risk factors. Some risk factors for oral cancer are out of your control—for example, your risk may be higher if you're a male over 40, or if you're African-American. But there are also factors you can control like tobacco use, high alcohol consumption or a poor diet, all of which can elevate your cancer risk. You can lower that risk by making lifestyle changes for factors you can control and prioritizing cancer screening if you have factors that you can't.
Pay attention to oral “oddities.” A small mouth sore or patch of odd-looking skin may be nothing—or it may be the beginning of oral cancer. If you do notice something unusual, especially if it seems to linger beyond a couple of weeks, have us examine it as soon as possible. If it does appear suspicious, you may need to undergo a biopsy, a cancer analysis of the suspected tissue. If it is cancerous, an early diagnosis could improve your outcome.
Visit your dentist regularly. There's more to semi-annual dental visits than teeth cleaning. Regular dental visits are an important component in your “early warning system” for oral cancer—we may notice something suspicious during your regular visit, often before you do. If you're older or have other risk factors for oral cancer, we can expand your regular exam to include a comprehensive cancer screening.
Oral cancer is a serious matter. But taking steps to prevent it and staying alert to its warning signs can help you overcome it.
Since his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross in the 90's TV drama ER, George Clooney has enjoyed a blockbuster career as an award-winning actor, director and producer. He's still going strong, as seen in the recent film The Midnight Sky, which Clooney directed and starred in. This sci-fi drama set a record as the most-watched movie on Netflix for the first five days after its late December release. And although now well into middle age, Clooney still possesses a winsome charm epitomized by his devil-may-care smile.
But he didn't always have his enigmatic grin. Early on, his struggles pursuing his burgeoning acting career triggered a stressful habit of grinding his teeth. This took a toll, as his teeth began to look worn and yellowed, giving his smile—and him—a prematurely aged appearance.
Clooney's not alone. For many of us, our fast-paced lives have created undue stress that we struggle to manage. This pent-up stress has to go somewhere, and for a number of individuals it's expressed through involuntary grinding or gritting of the teeth. This may not only lead to serious dental problems, but it can also diminish an otherwise attractive smile.
There are ways to minimize teeth grinding, the most important of which is to address the underlying stress fueling the habit. It's possible to get a handle on stress through professional counseling, biofeedback therapy, meditation or other relaxation techniques. You can also reduce the habit's effects with a custom-made oral device that prevents the teeth from making solid contact during a grinding episode.
But what if teeth grinding has already taken a toll on your teeth making them look worn down? Do what Clooney did—put a new “face” on your teeth with dental veneers. These thin layers of porcelain are bonded to teeth to mask all sorts of blemishes, including chips, heavy staining and, yes, teeth that appear shortened due to accelerated wearing. And they're custom-designed and fashioned to blend seamlessly with other teeth to transform your smile. Although they're not indestructible, they're quite durable and can last for years.
Veneers can correct many mild to moderate dental defects, but if your teeth are in worse shape, porcelain crowns may be the answer. A crown, which bonds to a prepared tooth to completely cover it, allows you the advantage of keeping your natural tooth while still enhancing its appearance.
Although different in degree, both veneers and crowns require permanently altering the teeth, such that they will require a dental restoration from then on. But if you're looking for an effective way to transform your worn or otherwise distressed teeth into a beautiful smile, it's a sound investment.
Just like George Clooney, your smile is an important part of who you are. We can help you make it as appealing as possible with veneers or other dental enhancements. Call us today to get started on the path to a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information about dental veneers and other smile enhancements, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Porcelain Veneers.”
Do you remember your first new car? It purred like a kitten with a brilliant finish you could see a mile away. And my, oh my, the attention you gave it: cleaning, polishing, regularly checking the fluids and other maintenance. That's what comes with pride of ownership—and it's an equally fitting attitude to have with your mouth.
World Oral Health Day is a great opportunity this month to renew your care for your mouth and its primary inhabitants, your teeth and gums. This March 20th, the FDI World Dental Federation wants you to “Be Proud of Your Mouth” for all it makes possible in your life: helping you eat, helping you speak and, of no lesser importance, helping you smile.
So how can you show pride in your mouth?
Keep it clean. Brushing and flossing are the two most important tasks you can do to prevent dental disease and ensure a healthy mouth. It takes only five minutes a day to clear away accumulated dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria most responsible for destructive tooth decay and gum disease. The only catch? To get the most from your oral hygiene efforts, you'll need to brush and floss every day, rain or shine.
Keep it fed. The food your teeth help you eat also benefits them—if they're the right foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins and dairy items like milk or cheese all contain vitamins and minerals that strengthen teeth against disease. On the flip side, there are foods you should avoid, particularly processed foods and snacks containing added sugar. Sugar feeds the oral bacteria that causes disease.
Keep it maintained. Routine dental visits are just as important for your mouth as routine mechanic visits are for your car. During these regular visits, we'll thoroughly clean your teeth of any missed plaque, especially a hardened version called tartar. It's also a time for us to look more closely at your teeth and gums to uncover any emerging problems that require treatment.
With a little time, effort and discipline, you can protect your teeth and gums from disease, and help them to be as healthy as they can be. The dividends will spill over into the rest of your life, with additional benefits for your physical, mental and social well-being. A healthy mouth is vital to a healthy life.
So, take pride in your mouth and make a commitment today to care for it. And if you haven't seen us in a while, an appointment for a dental cleaning and checkup could be your best move toward healthier teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about best dental care practices, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
Millions of Americans rely on dental insurance to help them better afford dental care. Depending on the benefit package, an insurance policy can be useful in restoring dental health compromised by disease or injury.
But how life-like that restoration may appear is often a secondary concern with many insurance plans. For example, dental insurance will pay for a crown restoration that restores function to a tooth, but not necessarily of the highest aesthetic quality for achieving a truly life-like appearance.
To be sure, not all dental crowns are the same. Some are all metal, usually gold or silver. Some are “hybrids,” made of an interior metal shell with an outer fused porcelain shell (porcelain-fused-to-metal or PFM). In recent years all -ceramic crowns made of stronger life-like ceramics have become the most popular.
The type of crown used will depend a great deal on the type and location of the tooth. Teeth on the back of the jaw that encounter greater biting forces and are not as noticeable in the smile may do better with a metal or PFM crown. Visible side and front teeth are more likely candidates for all-ceramic. Your dentist will give you your best options as it pertains to your dental needs and appearance.
There's also a difference in crown workmanship. Dental laboratories now use milling machinery that sculpts a crown from a single block of material. Although some final handwork by skilled technicians is still necessary, milling has streamlined the process—and the cost—for producing a crown of high functioning quality.
But crowns that achieve the most natural smile appearance require more in the way of artistic craftsmanship. This in turn can increase the crown's price—beyond what many dental policies agree to cover. You may then be faced with a decision: an insurance-covered functional crown with an acceptable level of life-likeness or a more life-like crown for which you may have to pay more out-of-pocket.
Your dentist can advise you on your best options for a crown restoration, also factoring in what your insurance will cover. Ultimately, though, you'll have to weigh the kind of smile you desire with your dental situation and finances.
If you would like more information on dental crown restorations, 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 “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
We all benefit from regular dental care, regardless of our state of oral health. But if you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, those regular dental visits are even more important in making sure your healed gums stay that way.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on tooth surfaces. The infection triggers inflammation in the gums that quickly becomes chronic. That's why people with gum disease have reddened and swollen gums that bleed easily.
The infection can aggressively spread deeper below the gum line, eventually affecting the bone. The combination of weakened gum detachment from the teeth and bone loss may ultimately cause tooth loss. But we can stop the infection by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) from the teeth and gums. As the plaque is removed, the gums respond and begin to heal.
It's possible then even with advanced gum disease to restore health to your teeth and gums. But although the infection has been arrested, it can occur again. In fact, once you've had gum disease, your susceptibility for another infection is much greater. To stay on top of this, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently.
These upgraded visits known as periodontal maintenance (PM) are actually a continuation of your treatment. Depending on the extensiveness of your gum disease, we may need to see you more than the standard twice-a-year visits: Some periodontal patients, for example, may need a visit every two to three months. Again, the state of your gum health will determine how often.
In addition to standard dental cleanings and checkups, PM visits will also include more thorough examination of the teeth and gums, particularly the health of the tooth roots. We'll also check how well you're doing with daily plaque removal and if there are any signs of gum infection. We may also prescribe medication, rinses or topical antibiotics to help control your mouth's levels of bacteria.
A patient's periodontal “maintenance schedule” will depend on their individual condition and needs. The key, though, is to closely monitor gum health for any indications that another infection has set in. By staying alert through dedicated PM, we can stop a new infection before it harms your dental health.
If you would like more information on gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Cleanings.”
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