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.”
If you’ve ever read online that root canal therapy causes cancer, don’t be alarmed—it doesn’t. What it does do is save a deeply decayed tooth that might otherwise be lost.
Tooth decay is caused by acid produced by bacteria, which dissolves enamel to create a hole or cavity. But it doesn’t stop there: decay can move on to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. Unchecked, the resulting infection can travel through the root canals to eventually infect the bone.
A root canal treatment stops the infection before it goes this far. After administering a local anesthetic, we drill a small hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals. We then remove all the diseased tissue, disinfect the space and then place a filling within the empty chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. We then seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to further protect and stabilize it.
It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that root canal treatments have saved millions of teeth. So, for all its beneficial effect, why is it considered by some to pose a health danger?
The germ for this notion comes from the early 20th Century when a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a “dead” organ in place would harm the body. Since a root-canaled tooth with the pulp’s living tissue removed is technically no longer viable, it fit the category of “dead” tissue. Thus, according to this theory, maladies like cancer could arise because of the “dead” tooth.
Unfortunately, this theory has found a somewhat new life recently on the internet, even though it was thoroughly investigated and debunked in the 1950s. And as late as 2013, a study published in a journal of the American Medical Association found no increased cancer risk after root canal treatment, and even some evidence for a reduced risk.
So, if your dentist recommends root canal treatment, rest assured it’s needed to save your tooth. Rather than harm your health, it will improve it.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Safety.”
You may think all crowns are alike—but there can be a world of difference between one crown and another. Getting the crown your dentist recommends and one that's satisfactory to you will depend on a number of factors, including what you'll ultimately have to pay.
Here are 3 things you need to know about crowns before undergoing a crown restoration.
Different materials. Although porcelain is the most life-like material used, earlier types of this glass-based material weren't strong enough to withstand biting forces, especially in back teeth. Years ago, all-metal crowns were most often used until the development of a hybrid porcelain crown with an inner metal substructure for strength. In recent years stronger all-porcelain crowns have risen in popularity. The material type that works best often depends on the tooth to be crowned—all-porcelain may work for a visible front incisor, but a porcelain-metal hybrid might be needed for a back molar.
Level of artistry. While new computer manufacturing systems allow dentists to produce patient crowns in-office, most still require the services and skills of a dental lab technician. The cost difference between crowns usually occurs at this juncture: the more life-like and customized the crown, the more artistry and time required by a technician to produce it. This can increase the cost of the crown.
Limited choices. While you and your dentist want your crown choice to be as individualized and life-like as possible, your dental insurance may limit your options. Many policies only provide benefits for the most basic crown restoration—enough to regain functionality and have an acceptable, but not always the most aesthetic, appearance. To get a higher quality of crown you may have to supplement what your policy and deductible will cover.
Deciding which crown is best will depend on where it will be needed, the level of attractiveness you desire and your insurance and financial comfort level. And your dentist can certainly help guide you to a crown choice that's right for you.
If you would like more information on restorative crown choices, 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.”
You depend on your family dentist for most of your oral care. There are some situations, though, that are best handled by a specialist. If you or a family member has a deeply decayed tooth, for example, it might be in your long-term interest to see an endodontist.
From the Greek words, endo ("within") and odont ("tooth"), endodontics focuses on dental care involving a tooth's interior layers, including the pulp, root canals and roots. While general dentists can treat many endodontic problems, an endodontist has the advanced equipment and techniques to handle more complex cases.
The majority of an endodontist's work involves teeth inwardly affected by tooth decay. The infection has moved beyond the initial cavity created in the enamel and dentin layers and advanced into the pulp and root canals. The roots and underlying bone are in danger of infection, which can endanger the tooth's survival.
The most common treatment is root canal therapy, in which all of the infected tissue is removed from the pulp and root canals. Afterward, the empty spaces are filled and the tooth is sealed and crowned to prevent future infection. General dentists can perform this treatment, primarily with teeth having a single root and less intricate root canal networks. But teeth with multiple roots are a more challenging root canal procedure.
Teeth with multiple roots may have several root canals needing treatment, many of which can be quite small. An endodontist uses a surgical microscope and other specialized equipment, as well as advanced techniques, to ensure all of these inner passageways are disinfected and filled. Additionally, an endodontist is often preferred for previously root-canaled teeth that have been re-infected or conditions that can't be addressed by a traditional root canal procedure.
While your dentist may refer you to an endodontist for a problem tooth, you don't have to wait. You can make an appointment if you think your condition warrants it. Check out the American Association of Endodontists webpage www.aae.org/find for a list of endodontists in your area.
Advanced tooth decay can put your dental health at risk. But an endodontist might be the best choice to overcome that threat and save your tooth.
If you would like more information on endodontic dentistry, 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 “Why See an Endodontist?”
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
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